Mich. flag dealers: Confederate flag supply drying up

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Michigan’s largest flag dealer is joining such major national retailers as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., abandoning sales of the Confederate flag, a symbol now linked to the South Carolina church shooting suspect.

Bill Miles, owner of American Flag and Banner in Clawson, said he didn’t have a choice. The nation’s four major flag makers have decided to stop making the iconic symbol displayed on home flag poles, license plates and apparel throughout the South.

“They’ve all discontinued them,” said Miles. “I talked with my New Jersey supplier this morning. Their vice president of sales told me it’s a public relations nightmare, no matter what they do.”

Retailers are dropping the Confederate flag, always a controversial symbol many connected with slavery but that southerners also saw as part of their history, in the wake of last week’s killing of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.

The suspect in those shootings, a white 21-year-old, had Confederate emblems on a license plate and was pictured on a website waving Confederate flags. The backlash has been fast-moving.

South Carolina’s Senate now is set for debate of a bill to remove the flag from the its Capitol grounds, as urged by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. Supporters said they expect to put together the two-thirds majority needed in each legislative chamber.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke of her support for the removal of South Carolina’s Confederate flag during a Missouri campaign stop. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn has called for removal of the battle emblem from his state flag and other governors want it removed from state license plates.

Wal-Mart plans to remove all products featuring the Confederate flag from its shelves and its website. Amazon Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and eBay said they, too, will drop Confederate flag merchandise.

For Clawson’s Miles, loss of a Confederate flag supplier isn’t a big deal because he didn’t sell many. But he does think retailers are overreacting. Miles said his business policy has been to refuse to stock only the Nazi flag.

At All-American Flag Co. in Brockway in St. Clair County, sales of Confederate flags may continue. Connie Clark, whose parents own the outlet, said they fill special orders for historic flags associated with the battles and military units from the Civil War era, mostly for use in re-enactments.

“I can’t see a reason that we would have to stop making those,” Clark said.

But Clark forwarded an announcement from a supplier, Eder Flag Manufacturing Co. of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, that the company is ending sales and manufacture of the Confederate flag.

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in Charleston,” it said in part. “Our hope moving forward is that all communities are able to live together in unity.”

That makes a difference for Klee Manufacturing of Flint, where Warren Klee said Eder was one of two suppliers of the flags they sell. Both of Klee’s suppliers now have stopped making Confederate flags.

“We had decided to stop selling them, anyway, because of the connotation — even though it’s a historic flag,” Klee said. “It’s such a small part of our sales, one or two a year, that it wasn’t a hard decision.”